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John Sheppard vs. The Magic Ball of Love

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It’s lunchtime on a Monday when Rodney does nothing in particular except be Rodney, and John is hit right over the head with the inconvenient out of the blue realization he might have some feelings about that. “Oh fuck,” he says, by accident but heartfelt.

Rodney looks up from across the table with zero concern. His eyes immediately slide down to John’s food and he asks, brazenly mid-chew, “Hey, are you still gonna eat that, or…”

Because Rodney’s an inconsiderate asshole.

But John’s stupid idiot of a heart has decided to be endeared by that, so he pushes his tray and whatever’s on it at Rodney. He’s not going to be able to stomach it now anyway.

Jesus.

*

Not that it has to be a problem, he decides on Tuesday. He’s had a day to think about it, and it’s not like anybody’s going to know. No one in their right mind interacts with Rodney McKay for more than five seconds and thinks, wow, I bet someone has a secret crush on him.

All John’s got to do is keep his mouth shut. As long as he doesn’t talk (easy – he never does that, anyway), there’s no possible way Rodney or anyone else could ever find out, and it’s all going to be just fine.

*

On Wednesday, Rodney shows up in John’s office with a fist-sized Ancient artifact, like a magic 8-ball except where the display should be is just a smooth surface. After John’s done with his opening act of pretending Rodney is interrupting an important military strategy session instead of a game of Minesweeper, Rodney hands him the ball for activation. The moment John touches it the display part starts to glow with a gentle white light.

It’s one color, there’s no sound, and it’s not even the entire ball. Nothing else happens. Kind of underwhelming, and Rodney’s missing it because he’s busy trying to get his pen to work by scribbling circles in his notebook over and over. He licks the tip and John makes the conscious decision to look at something else.

The ball is in his hand, so that’s a sensible choice.

“What even is this?” John asks. He’s never seen anything Ancient that looked more like a novelty paperweight. “A nightlight?”

Rodney glances up, and then glances up again, baffled. “What did you do? It’s supposed to only light up if someone the holder has romantic feelings for is nearby.”

So much for John’s entire Tuesday.

He sets the thing down like it caught fire. The light dies out. “Freaky,” he says, over the hammering of his own heartbeat.

Rodney steals a pen from John’s desk and finally starts taking actual notes. He appears mainly bored. “Must be broken. How typical.”

“Uh huh,” John says, and tries his utmost best to be very normal about it when Rodney nudges the ball back into the little box it came out of with his stolen pen.

*

On Thursday, John successfully avoids interacting with humanity by skipping breakfast. He goes for a long, long run in the most deserted part of the city that’s been declared safe, and then regrets it by lunchtime, because he probably could have held out until dinner if he hadn’t tried to combine hiding and productivity into a workout.

He sneaks into the mess hall, but any luck he may ever have had to his name has clearly run out. Rodney is not only there, he’s sitting alone at a table. John ducks his head, fills his tray with whatever is closest and tries to get very engrossed in the choice of a soggy sandwich with some alarmingly orange Pegasus peanut butter substitute. None of it does him any good in the end, because Rodney spots him just as he steals a glance and waves him over excitedly.

Clearly John needs to work on his stealth skills in urban environments. He’s already looked, so he can’t feign inattention; he considers walking away, but that would just invite questions. In the end, he heads for Rodney’s table, pretending it doesn’t feel like he’s walking the plank.

“There’s an update on the magic ball of love!” Rodney announces, before John’s even put his tray down on the table.

John grimaces. “Magic ball of love?”

“It’s that artifact thing from yesterday.” Rodney finds the time to tut in between bites and actual words. “This is what happens when Zelenka approves the underlings’ paperwork before I’ve officially decided on a name.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah. Anyway, it’s the weirdest thing! It seems like most of the time it does work as advertised. It didn’t light up for me or Zelenka, but it did for Petrovskaya, who has a giant crush on Radek for some reason. And we tried it on a few known couples and it worked for them, and it didn’t when we put them in a room with other people, though there was one slightly awkward moment when one of two scientists that are dating each other stepped out and we put in a marine for a control and-”

John doesn’t really want to hear about his marines and the magic ball of imminent DADT violations. “Why are we putting so much effort into this? Isn’t there something useful you could be doing?”

“This is an extremely valuable window into the inner workings of the Ancients’ minds!” Rodney argues, which means no, and he’s very bored. “Would you consider coming to the lab to-”

“No.” John doesn’t need to give that a lot of thought. He’s also not hungry anymore all of a sudden, so he grabs an apple from his tray and gets up.

“What?” Rodney shouts after him. “Why not?”

“Some of us have jobs to do.” Like sorting cards and sweeping for digital mines. Can’t let those ones and zeros in his computer be blown up on his watch.

As John leaves the mess hall, from way behind him Rodney still yells, “Your job is shooting stuff and there’s nothing for you to shoot!”

Which is true, but if Rodney keeps talking like that, John might just find something.

*

John spends the entire Friday keeping his head down, hoping for the Wraith to attack while Atlantis sinks into the sea and half the expedition turns into alien kangaroos, or something. As those things go when you’re waiting for a disaster that’s bigger than your own, he has an uneventful day.

He does end up in the same transporter as Zelenka at one point, who acts even more squirrely than usual. “What?” John asks, after ten seconds of that. He has a hunch and it’s frightening.

“Oh, nothing,” Zelenka says unconvincingly.

John would gladly take that as an answer, but he can’t. His hunch is correct.

Zelenka revises, “But you should know that if there were something, hypothetically, then Rodney does not make a habit of discussing his results with anyone but me and I would not tell. Especially not to Rodney, who appears oblivious.” Another beat. “But I also do not get it. At all.”

John decides Zelenka’s a little more okay than he’s been giving him credit for, maybe. “You and me both,” he admits, before he goes right back to pretending he’s someone who has some actual taste in definitely-totally-women.

*

On Saturday, John spends the entire morning in his office, because it’s the very last place anyone would come looking for him on a weekend. He’s bored enough that he starts reading over old reports. By the time he finds himself fixing his own spelling mistakes from eleven months ago, he realizes this situation is turning him into somebody he doesn’t recognize and switches back to Minesweeper.

He figures even Rodney, whose brain is so quick it sometimes speeds right past the social clues, will have put two and two together by now. The question is mostly whether he comes up with four, or Jesus-Christ-we-can-never-ever-work-together-ever-again.

John keeps telling himself he’d be okay with the second option. Best to get used to it fast.

Rodney finally shows up around noon. For someone John’s actively been avoiding most of the week, John’s oddly relieved to see his face.

Then Rodney knocks on the open door, which is the first sign something’s off. “Can I come in?”

John puts on his best drawl, just to make this as annoying an experience as possible for everyone. “Since when do you ask, McKay?”

Rodney laughs a little as he steps inside. “Haha,” he says, with an awkward polite grimace-smile that seemingly aspires to pass for genuine. “That’s funny.”

John is beyond freaked out by this point. He’s not even sure that’s the real Rodney he just invited in.

Rodney doesn’t seem to know what to do now that he is in. He stands in front of John’s desk for a second in a way that makes him look like he’s never had arms before and isn’t sure where to put them. Then he suddenly takes two jerky steps closer, pushes John’s pen holder (still with one stolen pen missing) a little to the side and perches on that newly freed edge of the desk. He folds his hands in his lap and then crosses his arms instead, and finally looks at John again.

John stares back.

“Hi,” Rodney says.

“Are you ill?” John asks.

Rodney shifts in place a little, almost knocking John’s remaining pens to the floor. John saves them from an early demise by way of Rodney’s unexpectedly placed ass. “I’m seducing you,” Rodney says, apropos of nothing (except John’s question, admittedly), and the pens almost end up on the floor after all.

John sets them down very carefully very far away from Rodney. “Not a great sign if you need to tell me that.”

Rodney, ever the oblivious social optimist, does not seem discouraged yet. “Ah, but is it working?”

John tilts his head a little. He does it first one way and then the other, thinking that might help him come up with something sane. “It is,” he concludes eventually, to his own regret. Expecting sanity from the same gray matter that made him flip a coin to decide if he was going to risk life and limb and way worse stuff to try to find the lost city of Atlantis in another galaxy might have been a bit too big of an ask.

That’s good to remember, though. Comparatively, wanting to see McKay naked is probably not even in the top five of his most disastrous impulses.

It’s definitely in the running for spot number six, though.

“Oh,” Rodney says, after blinking enough to make John wonder briefly if he’s responding in morse code. “I thought this would be more difficult. Well, good. So should we, uh- I mean, I guess, that is do you want to-”

John’s already fed up with this entire situation. “Let’s just have sex.”

Rodney lights up. “Okay! Great,” he says, and it soon turns out that against all odds it is, actually.

*

John doesn’t make it out of bed on Sunday. It’s a powerful argument to make him rethink whether any of this was really such a bad idea after all.

Then he wakes up from a nap to a cool weight on his torso. He raises his head to find the Ancient love ball precariously balanced in his belly button and boldly glowing, which might be cause to rethink his rethinking. When he turns his head there’s Rodney, still next to him in bed, wide awake and propped up on an elbow.

Rodney looks at most a smidgen sheepish, when by all rights he should be an entire sheep for making John wake up like this. “Just performing another little experiment,” he says, as if that’s generally accepted post-coital behavior. For Rodney this is probably like smoking.

John plops his head back down. “How can I give informed consent to participating in your science research if I’m asleep?”

“That was exactly the point. To see if it works on sleeping people.” Rodney finally picks up the damn ball. “It does. Little creepy, if you think about it.”

John absently waits for the light to dim, but that doesn’t happen. He counts to five Mississippi and it still hasn’t happened. Hm.

“It’s-” He frowns, licks his lips, and waves a hand to convey the rest of that sentence.

“Well, yeah.” Rodney looks at the ball too, seemingly only surprised when he finally notices John’s surprise. “Wait, didn’t you know? I thought that was obvious.”

“Sure,” John says, only a little sarcastic. “Obvious.”

They both stare at the ball for another moment. It doesn’t do anything except go on quietly glowing, powered by Rodney McKay’s feelings. Of all things in the world.

John’s more convinced than ever that the Ancients had a strong masochistic streak. There’s something like wild joy caught in his chest, his heart beating on the very tip of his tongue. “Can you put that away now?”

“Why?” Rodney asks, so John pulls the ball from his hand and rolls it across the floor. It comes to a halt against the wall with a dull metallic thump, and then it stays where it is, unlit in a shadowy corner. “That’s a priceless Ancient artifact!” Rodney says, enraged. “Why would you-”

John pins him to the bed and kisses him.

Rodney mumbles some things against his lips, and eventually manages, “Okay, good reason,” and doesn’t say anything for a while after that.